In one of this year’s most hotly contested Congressional races, two African-American candidates are competing for votes not only in some of Brooklyn’s historically black neighborhoods but also in parts of Queens with a history of racial tensions. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
It was 1986 and a young black man lay dead on the Belt Parkway. He and two friends had been beaten and chased by a gang of white youths from a Howard Beach pizzeria. Marches and racial discord followed.
Fast forward 25 years and it’s all but certain this neighborhood will soon by represented in Congress by an African-American.
“The incident I think you’re talking about took place 25 years, a quarter of a century ago," said Joseph Crowley, the chair of the Queens Democratic party. "I think that not only this community but the entire city of New York and our country has changed.”
Crowley and other Queens elected officials on Friday endorsed Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. Jeffries is vying to succeed retiring Brookyn Congressman Ed Towns, whose district was reconfigured this year to include predominantly white neighborhoods, including Howard Beach and Ozone Park.
Jeffries says he can unite neighborhoods around common issues.
“I think things have changed considerably," he said. "And every time that I’ve been out in Howard Beach and in Ozone Park, the people of this community have been very open, warm and embracing of me.”
City Councilman Charles Barron is Jeffries’ opponent. The former Black Panther, who was endorsed by a group of Latino leaders Friday, has long preached black empowerment but says there’s much common ground.
“The people of Howard Beach will be very, very pleased with the kind of fighting spirit that I have to deal with the issues," he said. "What are they concerned about? Living wage jobs, health care, pension.”
Meanwhile, while President Obama is not making an endorsement in the race, he did the next best thing: he took a picture with Jeffries at a recent fundraiser that’s sure to turn up in campaign literature.
Barron and Jeffries face off in the Democratic primary June 26, less than two weeks from now, with the winner all but guaranteed to win the general election in November in a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic.